I think we can all agree that “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” didn’t age very well. Between the gong sound effect that plays every time an Asian person comes on screen and the constant degradation of the only female member of the main cast (Kaitlin Olson, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), the one thing this show couldn’t ever be is politically correct. It’s offensive, vulgar, crude and sometimes gory, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the chaos is oddly soothing in my stagnant but simultaneously disorderly quarantine life.
I decided I would have to put the glory of “It’s Always Sunny” into words while I was watching “Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire” (Season 3, Episode 8). Frank (Danny DeVito, “Jumanji: The Next Level”), in an attempt to make a famous television news show, goes to Chinatown with Mac (Rob McElhenney, “Mean Jean”) and Charlie (Charlie Day, “The Cool Kids”) and tries to convince them to fake a story about a pandemic. An Asian guy coughs, and Frank yells, “A pandemic! Bird flu! Bird flu!”, which is scarily similar to the racist attitudes proliferating at this time. The beauty of the show, however, is that it knows how lowbrow it is, and it never tries to present itself as otherwise. The characters are some of the most horribly flawed individuals on television, but the show never tries to make them likeable. The show makes fun of reality in a way that helps me cope with the real, terrifying racism that has surfaced from this situation, so I thought it wise to compile a short collection of other episodes that parallel the odd situation we have found ourselves in.
So, without further ado, here is an episode to match each of the five stages of quarantine.
1. Denial: “The Gang Gets Analyzed” (Season 8, Episode 5)
It’s mid-March. The sun is going down, and news just broke that the University is going online until the end of the semester. Nothing seems real, and you can’t even begin to think about the next steps. This is denial.
No other episode depicts each character’s deepest flaws as explicitly as this one does, and their flawed personalities shine brightly through monologues and their deep denial of the therapist’s attempts to help their petty inner-group conflict. It’s a full episode of the characters refusing to deal with the underlying issues that plague them throughout the whole series, and it vaguely reminds me of myself during the brief period of time when I was sure I wouldn’t have to move home for the next five months.
2. Uncertainty: “The Gang Gets Held Hostage” (Season 3, Episode 4)
OK, maybe we can wait it out. Housing said we could stay if we wanted, so hiding out here for the next couple months wouldn’t be so bad. Or maybe I should just go home?
This episode mirrors the uncertainty most of us faced in deciding whether to go home or not, in the most bizarre way imaginable. The gang’s held hostage by the McPoyle family who, fair warning, are some of my least favorite characters on television. In spite of that, this episode is still worth watching. It’s a good representation of the uncertainty that was caused by coronavirus and still affects us on a daily basis.
3. Anger: “Mac and Dennis Move to the Suburbs” (Season 11, Episode 5)
When it finally hits that everyone’s probably going to have to leave for the foreseeable future, a lot of emotions hit in waves. For me, some of it amounted to anger. The frustration that I didn’t appreciate my time here to the fullest, that I had a paper due the same day I was moving out, that I’d be cooped up with my entire family for an undetermined amount of time, was too much to handle so suddenly. In hindsight, none of this should’ve upset me, I enjoy privileges that others don’t, but the suburban claustrophobia got to me. Mac and Dennis (Glenn Howerton, “A.P. Bio”) feel the same unadulterated rage about starting a mundane, routine lifestyle in the suburbs, and the rage they feel toward such petty things is cathartic enough for a rewatch.
4. Mania: “The Gang Goes to Jersey Shore” (Season 7, Episode 2)
This one needs little introduction. I think everyone’s felt a hint of mania at this point in quarantine, and if you haven’t, you’re not quarantining right. This is, appropriately, one of the most absurd and dreamlike episodes of the series.
5. Acceptance: “The Gang Misses the Boat” (Season 10, Episode 6)
To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve reached this stage yet. Everything’s still too uncertain to fully accept the circumstances, but I think my ability to stay (mostly) at home for the past three weeks is a strong enough effort toward acceptance for now.
The gang takes a break from one another for the duration of this episode, and the distance helps some of them come to terms with who they are without the external influence of their friends. Eventually, they accept that the chaos is what makes their lives as exciting as they are, which is what I’ve come to realize during my daily routine of nothingness.
6. Bonus episode: “The Gang Gets Quarantined” (Season 9, Episode 7)
To top it all off, here’s an episode that eerily resembles our current circumstances. If you don’t end up watching the others in this list, this one should wrap it all up.